How Delusion Lost the Trade Deadline

Man, the Baltimore Orioles really don’t know how to use Zach Britton.

After last year’s Wild Card game, you’d figure the Orioles maybe would have finally figured out how to deploy their greatest asset. But, it’s August 3rd and Britton still puts on an orange and black uniform every night that doesn’t say ‘Houston’ on the front of it.

Lol nope, they haven’t figured out. 

According to Ken Rosenthal, with about an hour left until the deadline the Baltimore front office called all teams interested in Britton – presumably Houston, Cleveland and Los Angeles – and told him that he wasn’t available any more. The Orioles then preceded to acquire Tim Beckham from the Rays, combining him with Jeremy Hellickson, acquired two nights prior, to make up their trade deadline prizes.  

The Baltimore Orioles, 4 games under .500 entering July 31st and featuring the 27th best MLB farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law, decided to buy at the trade deadline.

Now, if we’re to believe Houston’s front office and a report by Jon Heyman, there was a Zach Britton to the Astros trade in place before it was “vetoed at the top.” Orioles owner Peter Angelos has only allowed his team to ‘sell’ for 2 out of the past 20-30 deadlines, so it seems pretty easy to understand who put the stamp on things.

Delusion reigned supreme in Baltimore.

From Angelos’ point of view, he’s 86 years old and I understand an urgency to win. But his win-now demands have tied the hands of his franchise. The Orioles traditionally don’t draft well or spend internationally, so they have to be on point with trading and free agency. Holding onto Zach Britton and Brad Brach – among others – at the deadline has set them up in a porous position going forward.

In a seller’s market for pitching, Baltimore had two of the most valuable assets and a chance to run the table. Instead, they decided to hold firm and, further, when they weren’t able to get the presumably exorbitant player returns they wanted on Britton and Brach, the Orioles decided to buy.

When Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t solve Baltimore’s awful starting pitching situation, things predictably collapse down the stretch of this season and the Orioles finish in the AL East cellar, they’ll have a dire offseason situation staring them in the face and nobody to blame but themselves. 

So, congratulations to the Orioles for still thinking they can contend, I guess. Enjoy Tim Beckham and another decade of irrelevancy.

What Baltimore – and a startling amount of other clubs – apparently fails to understand is that relief pitching is the most volatile commodity in baseball. Second on that list is prospects. So all the teams that decided to cuddle up with their relievers and prospects instead of sacking up and making smart, calculated moves did a great job holding firm and not being pushed around!

But don’t be too proud, you’re worse off than you were before.

Out in San Diego, General Manager AJ Preller was reportedly “reaching for the stars” with his asking price on reliever Brad Hand. Hand is having a breakout, All-Star season and had emerged as one of the most valuable deadline commodities.

The Padres have absolutely no use for him. A top quality relief pitcher on a bad team is like having icing, but no cake. Keeping Brad Hand in San Diego is a useless luxury because a good bullpen is usually the final piece in a championship puzzle, but the Padres don’t even have a box to keep it in, let alone the rest of the puzzle.

What AJ Preller apparently failed to understand is that he wasn’t in a position of leverage with negotiations surrounding Hand. Could teams such as the Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox and Indians all use a pitcher like Brad Hand? Absolutely, but the Padres aren’t in a spot where holding onto Hand instead of trading him gives them any sort of advantage.

Bad teams clearly fail to understand that they will not be able to extort GM’s of better teams in relief pitching negotiations. And instead of accepting a lesser, yet still valuable return on a luxury player they had no use for, the Padres opted to hold firm on their outrageous demands and ended up keeping Hand through the deadline.

Way to go, AJ Preller and company! You didn’t allow yourself to be pushed around and have wasted the only useful trade commodity wearing Padres brown. 

Considering that Hand has no track record of putting up the numbers he’s putting up this season and also considering the volatility of relief pitching, he could easily flame out within a year and San Diego would end up with nothing to show for what once could be considered the most valuable deadline commodity.

Delusional return demands and the idea that they had some leverage made San Diego hold onto Hand and caused them to fail the deadline. Enjoy more irrelevancy, Padres; not like it’s anything you aren’t used to, though.

And now we get to the biggest failure of the deadline, the Houston Astros.

3 weeks ago, I said that if Houston didn’t trade for a young, controllable starting pitcher they will have failed the trade deadline. Well, guess whose parents aren’t gonna be happy with the report card coming in the mail.

The Astros’ team ERA has gradually risen from 3.38 in April, bottoming out at an alarming 5.08 over the month of July. Team ace Dallas Keuchel has spent extended time on the DL this season, and Lance McCullers Jr. just was placed there on Wednesday morning. Right now, Houston would roll into a playoff series with Keuchel, Mike Fiers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh making up their rotation.

And the front office’s brilliant solution to this problem was Francisco Liriano.

I certainly believe that the Astros were busy because, as I mentioned earlier, they reportedly had a deal for Zach Britton all set until it got “vetoed at the top.” But, unlike the Dodgers, Houston didn’t seem to have a backup plan after their Britton pursuit failed.

Los Angeles finalized 3 trades in the span of an hour after the Britton shutdown and solidified their contender status. Houston curled up in a corner and convinced themselves that they were already good enough.

And then as soon as the masses predictably began questioning the Astros’ lack of trade movement, the executives played the victim card. General Manager Jeff Luhnow talked about how disappointed he was that some deals were “almost over the finish line” but then couldn’t get done. He mentioned that things either got vetoed at the top or that Houston’s “math guys” didn’t like the long term numbers of deals in place.

Whatever excuse they come up with next, the Astros failed miserably.

Houston’s seeming lack of a Britton back up plan is pathetic. If Liriano was their back up plan and the trade just got announced sooner than the Britton news happened, that’s less pathetic but still not conducive to a team trying to win its first ever World Series.

If the Astros were worried about their long term math being messed up, that’s even more of a problem because it shows that the front office lacks perspective. As I mentioned yesterday, you don’t get to choose the winning window because it chooses you. Houston seems to be irresponsibly acting as if, by holding onto their precious prospects, the window is going to be open forever and that trading some away would close it immediately after 2017.

Teams in a similar position, the Yankees and Dodgers, went out and aggressively acquired quality starting pitching. Houston, with just as many prospects to trade as those two teams, let themselves be bullied into a corner and have thus allowed the gap between them and the rest of the American League to be all but closed.

The Astros will have nobody to blame but themselves when 2017 turns into another ‘what could have been’ year in the franchise’s long, title-less history.

Considering that I implored every team to either buy or sell at the deadline, you can put me up at the top of the list of people that are immensely frustrated by the holistic lack of movement over the month of July.

The Giants only traded Eduardo Nunez because it was convenient. The Mets moved laterally by shipping out Addison Reed but bringing in AJ Ramos. Milwaukee allowed themselves to be bullied around by the Cubs and opted to only comfortably acquire a few relievers. The Tigers unwisely held firm on Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler. The Pirates went nowhere. Cincinnati failed to capitalize on Zack Cozart’s sky high value. And I have yet to even mention teams like St. Louis, Toronto, Seattle, and the Angels that all remain without a clear franchise direction.

This trade deadline was a mess, and all the ‘losers’ have delusion to blame.

Baltimore’s delusion was believing it should buy. Houston’s delusion was believing prospects are more valuable than winning now. San Diego’s delusion was believing they had leverage with Brad Hand negotiations. Among many, many others, these stand out most.

Hopefully 2017’s trade deadline can serve as a reminder to all GM’s that midseason activity is pivotal to franchise success, whether that be during the current season or in the future. Sitting pat is a useless activity that yields nothing but mediocrity and irrelevancy.

To the D’Backs, Cubs, Indians, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Dodgers or Nationals: one of you will enjoy a 2017 championship.

To the A’s, Rangers and especially the White Sox: enjoy the future fruits of your selling labor.

To everyone else: figure it out or remain irrelevant. The choice is yours.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

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How Delusion Lost the Trade Deadline

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